The NFC North has very little cap room between the teams within the division. As one of the stronger divisions in the league, there is still some room for improvement. Who will do the most to take the division over?
The NFC North has very little cash entering the free agency period. The Packers have the most cap space and they still sit in the middle of the pack. The Vikings have virtually zero cap space, the Lions are in the middle and the Bears are near the bottom half. This is the division where you see smaller signings hoping to fill out their rosters.
Needs: Defensive End and Cornerback
Notable Free Agents: Aaron Lynch, Bryce Callahan, Adrian Amos, and Marcus Cooper
Cap Space: $19,698,005 (23rd most in the NFL)
The Bears probably have the best defense in the NFL. With multiple studs throughout the defense on the books for next season, they just need to add some veterans and fill out the roster. There are a couple of low key free agents that the Bears can sign to still improve. Much of the additions to the roster will be done via the draft but free agent additions are still necessary. Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Eddie Jackson, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, and Roquan Smith are all signed next year, Who could you possibly add?
Who Will They Sign?
1) Adrian Amos – Safety
Adrian Amos has enjoyed a real solid four-year career with the Bears so far. The pairing with Eddie Jackson has proven to be one of the best safety tandems in the league. Because of this though Amos may have quite a few suitors. The Bears sit in the bottom half of the league when it comes to cap but should use a good chunk of it to retain Amos.
The career numbers for Amos are as follows, 269 tackles (230 solo), 13 tackles for loss, two sacks, 18 passes defended, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and one touchdown. His consistency is very obvious too. In his four seasons, Amos tackle numbers totaled 67, 62, 67, and 73. Amos has also shown growth in the playmaking department. In his last two seasons, he has all three of his interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a sack, and his lone touchdown.
The health of Amos has also been great as he has played in 60 of a possible 64 games and started in 56 of them.
Coverage was something that Amos really excelled in this year. Pro Football Focus showed his coverage grades here:
Adrian Amos played more snaps in coverage than any other safety – and finished with the 8th-highest grade at the position. pic.twitter.com/z9DHaK8Ucj
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 29, 2019
As I said earlier, both Amos and Jackson are great safeties. The two can interchange between the two safety spots as both excel in coverage. Watch the clips here where you can see both Amos and Jackson’s abilities to read routes and make plays:
Shot 10 – This safety tandem for #DaBears is very, very talented. Eddie Jackson is one of the best young safeties in the league and would be a big loss if he can't go on Sunday. Adrian Amos is no slouch next to him. Both guys read routes well and offer versatility in coverage pic.twitter.com/ucGEQUU6PF
— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 3, 2019
Not only does Amos cover well but he does not shy away from contact. Sitting at 6’0″ and 214 lbs, he can really lay down the hit stick on people. watch here as he just levels Jerrick McKinnon:
Adrian Amos monster hit on Jerick Mckinnon pic.twitter.com/9pQdY2KL7s
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) October 10, 2017
Another example of his hitting ability is seen with him making the play on slot receivers. As mentioned above he reads routes very well which allows him to get to the catch point right on time to force drops with huge hits. Watch these two clips where he lays the hit on both Adam Thielen and Cole Beasley right as the ball gets to them to break up the play on one hand and just end the play in the other:
#Bears — 4th down situation. CHI “cuts” the backside WR in a tight split (allows the safety to drive/jump the shallow crossing route). Physical hit from Adrian Amos to get off the field. @NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/paKUNJkMJc
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 1, 2019
— ✶ Sports Mockery ✶ (@sportsmockery) September 26, 2016
Amos is one of the best safeties on the free agent market. He may be expensive but will be below the pay scales of those like Landon Collins and Earl Thomas. The Bears do have an offensive lineman they really need to retain in Bobby Massie but after him the cash needs to be put to Amos.
2) Christian Covington – Defensive End
This is one of those low scale free agent signings that could prove to be a difference maker for the Bears. Covington for his four year career has been a bit player with the Houston Texans. He has suited up for 50 of a possible 64 games starting only nine of them. He only had two starts in 2018 but showed a higher quality of getting to the passer.
Having only played in 24% of the teams defensive snaps, Covington had some of his best numbers to date. Although he only finished with 15 total tackles, he did come up with 3.5 sacks, four tackles for a loss, and eight QB hits. Covington uses his strength mostly when getting to the quarterback. Watch here as he just bullies Jack Conklin of the Titans to get to Mariota:
Jack Conklin getting pushed around by star edge rusher Christian Covington. pic.twitter.com/EhxmdvWmdK
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) November 27, 2018
Adding Covington to a line with Hicks and pass rushers Leonard Floyd and Mack should allow him to slide in seamlessly as he had equal talent around him in Houston. The one key difference is in Houston Covington did not have any help inside. Hicks will provide that help and Covington could break out.
3) Orlando Scandrick – Cornerback
Scandrick has played 10 years in the NFL and has been an above average slot corner. The Bears, as I wrote earlier in my AFC North free agent edition, lose Bryce Callahan to the Browns in free agency. Now they are left with little cap room to fill that hole. They need to search for a veteran who is looking to win.
Scandrick has always been a playmaker. He has nine interceptions and 11.5 sacks for his career along with 76 passes defended. Adding yet another level off pass rush in blitzing from the slot just makes this Bears defense that much more dynamic. He can bring a level of veteran leadership as he has played in some big playoff games with both the Cowboys and now Chiefs. Watch here as he is able to break off his receiver on the outside and make the play on the inside receiver to break up the play:
Orlando Scandrick has been a big help for the defense. He's added physicality and is feisty contesting catches. pic.twitter.com/ZaLWIEamfa
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 11, 2018
Scandrick is not the best free agent available but he is something the Bears could definitely use. He may also come cheap which is something that Bears need to find.
Needs: Linebacker, Defensive Tackle
Notable Free Agents: Sheldon Richardson, Tom Johnson, Anthony Barr, Marcus Sherels, George Iloka, Anthony Harris (RFA)
Cap Space: $731,725 (30th most in the NFL)
The Vikings went all in last year and came out much worse than they figured they would have. Having virtually the same team but adding Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson and they finished at a measly 8-7-1 to miss the playoffs after going 13-3 in 2017. Now they are placed in a very tough position as they have some key players becoming free agents with zero cap space to do it with. Regression looks inevitable in the defensive side of the ball for the Vikings and unfortunately, I do not have any acquisitions for them.
Needs: Defensive End, Cornerback, Linebacker
Notable Free Agents: Kerry Hyder (RFA), Ricky Jean-Francois, Romeo Okwara (RFA), Ezekiel Ansah, Eli Harold, DeShawn Shead
Cap Space: $30,291,01 (18th most in the NFL)
The Lions are, as they always seem, on the cusp of being a competitive team. They look solid on the offensive side of the ball as they may have finally found their star running back in Kerryon Johnson. Defensively there are still a lot of holes to fill and only decent cap space to do it. After losing Ansah to the Browns, as I wrote before, the Lions are in dire need of pass rush help but with what is out on the market they will probably find this in the draft.
Who Will They Sign?
1)Ken Crawley – Cornerback
Crawley had an up and down season for the Saints. He only made five starts this season and underwhelmed even after putting together two solid starts against the Ravens and Giants. This forced the Saints to trade for Eli Apple, sending Crawley to the bench.
We cannot forget though the season that Crawley had in 2017. He started in 13 games and totaled 54 tackles (47 solo), one tackle for a loss, 17 passes defended, and an interception. The 17 passes defended is what jumps out to me. He also would not need to be a number one corner. If Crawley came to the Lions, they still have stud Darius Slay as the number one. Crawley can slide into number two duties and I think can fit in with Coach Patricia’s defense.
Crawley is more than capable in coverage as you see here:
Ken Crawley is one of the league's most improved corners this season. Absolutely a legitimate outside starter for the Saints after being a sieve last year pic.twitter.com/PnRyiDFEjQ
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) November 1, 2017
At 6’1″, he also provides great length at the position. Crawley’s age is also very attractive as he has only played in three NFL seasons. Considering he was benched last season, the Lions should not have to roll out the cash to sign him and could come up with a steal if they can sign him on the cheap.
2) Stephone Anthony – Linebacker
Anthony had a great start to his NFL career putting up great numbers as a rookie. In his rookie season, he put up 112 tackles (70 solo), five tackles for a loss, one sack, five passes defended, one interception, two forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and a touchdown. After that, however, the wheels came off. Since, Anthony has appeared in only 34 games, starting three. What happened his sophomore year in New Orleans I am not sure of but it only went downhill.
After his underwhelming second season, Anthony moved on to the Dolphins where they hoped to rejuvenate his career. However, the Dolphins only saw much of the same. Obviously the talent is there for Anthony per his rookie season numbers. Patricia had a knack for getting the best out of his linebackers in New England. If there is anybody who can rejuvenate Anthony’s career, it will be the Lions who also can present him with opportunity.
3) Romeo Okwara – Defensive End
Okwara came out of nowhere for the Lions last season. He barely played his first few seasons with the Giants and only accumulated one sack. In his first season with the Lions, Okwara started in 14 of the 15 games he played. With the increased playing time, his numbers spiked to 39 tackles (28 solo), eight tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, one pass defended, and a forced fumble.
Okwara has great strength. Ask Kyle Rudolph, who noticed first hand:
Romeo Okwara hit the Arm Farm yesterday before the game 💪😳
— Simms & Lefkoe (@SimmsAndLefkoe) November 5, 2018
Here are a couple of great plays from Okwara. First his ability to see the screen and use his athleticism to make the play:
Speaking of Romeo Okwara…
— Josh Cohen (@jco3215) September 25, 2018
Then you see a good combination of pass rushing moves to get the quarterback pressure:
#Giants Romeo Okwara with a very good rep, from a 2 pt stance, against a talented LT in Okung. Establishes 1/2 man relationship, while moving up the arc and pulling Okung with his outside✋🏾. Then he utilizes an excellent Dip/Rip move to separate and force an incompletion #NYG pic.twitter.com/yiW52zMPjb
— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) July 19, 2018
With Okwara I think we have only seen the beginning. With him and Da’Shawn Hand as the defensive ends on this team, the future can be very bright.
Green Bay Packers
Needs: Defensive End, Linebacker, Safety
Notable Free Agents: Muhammad Wilkerson, Clay Matthews, Jake Ryan, Korey Toomer, Bashaud Breeland, Davon House, Kentrell Brice (RFA)
Cap Space: $32,299,312 (17th most in the NFL)
The Packers are coming off a very disappointing season as they missed the playoffs. There is some obvious help needed throughout the defense. They have some decent cap space but I do not see any huge free agent splashes coming from them. More or less some solid cheaper end additions that can be brought in and made to compete.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Preston Brown – Linebacker
Brown was the leading tackler in the NFL in 2017 with 144 total tackles. Also in each of the previous three seasons before that, he eclipsed the 100 tackle mark. With an injury-riddled 2018 and just the lack of competency by the Bengals, Brown had a very down year. The Packers have a stud linebacker in Blake Martinez but that is about it. Oren Burks is expected next year to make the leap but that is yet to be seen.
Brown can come into Green Bay and bring instant tackling ability while Martinez can focus on rushing the passer and making plays. He can bring more of a safety blanket to Martinez in knowing he is not the last man to make the play.
Brown is a very capable tackler and plays down hill. Watch the hit he lays here:
— Buffalo Fanatics (@BuffFanatics) March 26, 2016
This does not mean that Brown is inept in coverage either. In his four and a half seasons, Brown has five interceptions and 14 passes defended. Putting him next to Martinez would be a very smart idea for the Packers. He brings reliability and experience. Brown also has multiple 100 tackle seasons. He is coming off a down year and may come cheaper than you expect.
2) Blidi Wreh-Wilson – Safety
Wreh-Wilson is an under the radar free agent this year. He started his career with the Titans as a cornerback but has since made the switch to free safety. With Josh Jones occupying the strong safety role in Green Bay, adding a young ranging safety would be nice. Wreh-Wilson is 6’1″ and ran a 4.53 40 yard dash at the draft combine. As you can see, he has size and speed.
Wreh-Wilson’s coverage is solid as well. He has started in 15 games in his career, producing 17 passes defended and 95 total tackles. Watch the great play me makes on the corner end zone route here:
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) August 31, 2017
Watch him here read the quarterback and jump the route to return the pick to the house:
— Husky Highlights (@UConnHighlights) October 2, 2018
Wreh-Wilson has the skill but just needs the opportunity to play full time. With the Packers lack of depth at the position, this could be a great landing spot. This also would work in Green Bay’s favor as Wreh-Wilson will come with a cheaper price tag than most.
3) Brent Urban – Defensive End
Urban plays a 3-4 defensive end which is a position where stats do not show the impact the player has made. He started every game this season for a Ravens defense that was top notch. Though he only accumulated 27 total tackles and 0.5 sacks, he did make an impact.
Per Pro Football Focus, Urban finished with a grade of 72.2, which is above average for his position. Watch here as he pushes the opposing offensive lineman into the backfield forcing the running back to make a cutback:
Violent Hands: #Ravens Brent Urban (@urbanlegend96) gets knockback on the frontside. Makes the RB cutback into Chris Wormley (@Chris_Wormley43) who reads flow, plays with gap discipline & gets the TFL! pic.twitter.com/dF9g0Uf9Ra
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) September 14, 2018
Urban plays special teams well as he does a great job in field goal block formation. Here you see him pick up the block for the win:
— Nicholas Prins (@nohouzecalls) December 1, 2015
Urban is not a flashy free agent add but the Packers do need help at the position. He may be one of the best available on the market.
In a division where cap space is not plentiful, some of the teams do make some important moves. The Bears sign there biggest free agent in Adrian Amos. The Vikings fail to do anything because of their cap space. The Lions sign some younger guys hoping to turn their careers around. The Packers add some good talent to their roster at every level. With the defensive moves made the Lions and Packers have an opportunity to be more competitive this season.
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